KUNLE ODEREMI brings some issues underlying the seamless clamour for a restructuring of the Nigerian federation.
THE venue was the International conference Centre of the University of Ibadan. Nigerian from all walks of life had converged to celebrate the late hero, Adekunle Fajuyi, who paid the supreme sacrifice for exhibiting an uncanny bravery in an attempt to save the life of a visiting Nigerian leader. The organizers of the epochal event chose a distinguished scholar, Professor Niyi Osundare, to stimulate the conscience of Nigerians on the state of the country. Of course, the world-renowned author and poet was able to hold his audience spellbound for hours through his candid views and projections about the Nigerian project. He quipped: “The likes of Adekunle Fajuyi are not recognised as national heroes because there is as yet no ‘nation’ to be a hero in or of. This is why the National Question in Nigeria is perennially in search of a national answer…”
Osundare’s thought on the Nigerian federalism was in sync with the position espoused by another erudite scholar and former minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi some years back on the predicaments of the Nigerian federation. He was concerned about the fragility of the state, the political elite were not seriously boding with the followership. His words: “Nigeria is a frightened and frightening state inhabited by frightened and frightening people. We are suspicious of each other, we are suspicious of government and government is suspicious of its own people. A season of anomie is what we have. The reason for this is that we practice the politics of ambush. The people don’t know what the government is up to. The government does not know what the people are to.”
These and many other issues have sustained the flame agitations for restructuring of the country in what many now refer to a true federation. It is one struggle that such names like Chief Anthony Enahoro, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Dr Kanmi Ishola-Osobu, Dr Tunji Otegbeye and Alao Aka-Bashorun invested huge resources in their life time. Prolonged military rule was catalytic to the struggle, especially when the country was reduced to a political guinea pig suited for weird experiments and gyrations. The brazen insult on the sensibility of the citizens by the ruling military class proved the a critical segment of the civil class to coalesce into a plethora of pro human rights and democracy bodies with the primary assignment was to fiercely rise up against the military oligarchy. The decision of the military establishment to annul the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by late business mogul, Chief MKO Abiola provided the veritable platform for the open resistance, with the concomitant unpleasant consequences in the annals of the country. Activists teamed up with oil workers and a section of political class to grip the military hegemonists by the scrotum up to submission, but at a very huge cost: killings, prolonged incarceration, maiming, economic deprivation and sojourn in exile.
With the political leadership of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the platform Abiola used to secure victory having compromised such groups as the pan-Yoruba organization, Afenifere, picked up the gauntlet along with the Movement for National Reformation (MNR), Campaign for Democracy (CD), and other pro democracy and human rights groups to lead the struggle of a twin agenda: de-annulment of the election and restructuring of the federation. Most of the organisations soon came under the same umbrella, National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), with the late nationalist, Chief Anthony Enahoro, as leader.
The courage, doggedness and steadfastness of the pro-June 12 promoters elicited sympathy from international bodies and developed countries like United States, United Kingdom and Canada. The perceived injustice against Abiola over the mandate inflicted deep cracks within the military itself, as a number of its top brass were forcefully pushed out of service and had to flee into exile in Europe or US. Wife of Abiola, Kudirat, was killed in the season of state—sponsored terror unleashed on protagonists of the sanctity of June 12. Abiola, who had humbled the candidate of the National republican Convention (NRC) during the poll, Alhaji Bashir Uthman Tofa, later died while incarceration, following his arrest by the military regime for seeking to reclaim his made.
His death only ushered in another phase in the struggle for the soul of the nation in a more dramatic and poignant way, as the pro-democracy groups upped their clamour for the restructuring of the federation, in spite moves by the new military regime to placate them. Pro-National Conference (PRONACO) became the new platform to orchestrate the campaign. Though most of the members were opposed to the fresh political transition programme enunciated by the authorities, quite a number of the politicians among them soon teamed up with like-minds to form new political parties, including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD), with the latter forming part of the arrowhead of calls for restructuring.
Whereas the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo snubbed such advocacy, his effort at constitutional amendment to address some germane issues died prematurely. But the agitation for restructuring culminated in a national conference in 2014 under former President Goodluck Jonathan, with the ambivalence of the authorities towards the final report provoking seamless demand for the implementation, because some critical issues encapsulated in the principle of restructure are fully captured in the report. These include creation of additional states, resource control, population census, power sharing, unitary policies, form and system of government, as well as revenue allocation formula and derivation principle.
.It is instructive to note that a lot of eminent Nigerians are of the consensus that restructuring the federation remains the panacea to the core challenges impeding the stability, cohesion, unity, progress and prosperity of the country. In the opinion of Professor Osundare: “To wave off the lingering call for a restructuring of this country is to risk the possibility of suicide through denial. Fredrick Lugard’s contraption has been aching in every joint since 1914.” Shortly after returning from self-exile at the threshold of military exit from political power and scene in 1999, Chief Enahoro underscored the need to restructure instead of the battle who became the president of the country. His words: “THE MNR’s view is that instead of searching for one new man to be president, the country ought to be searching for new structures to be produced by a national conference composed of representatives of the ethnic groups and national organizations.”
Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, in his book, Witness to Justice, which is a narrative on his experience as member of the National Reconciliation Committee presided over by late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, underlined the fragile unity of the country. He wrote: “Nigeria has remained trapped in a time warp. It has not succeeded in extricating itself from the colonial trap that is suffused with inherited prejudices, and distorted social histories.” Likewise the late Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu in his book, Because I am Involved, where he noted that “The true problem with Nigeria is that she is fully embroiled in an identity crisis. The Nigerian of today is a socio-path in search of a society….we live in a country in search of a common character.”
In a memorandum by obas, elders and other major stakeholders in Yoruba land, they had stated that “In restructuring the Nigerian polity, we must give up the zero-sum game. We must put in place a structure and a system where all players have the opportunity to gain; indeed, a political arrangement that provides equality of opportunity for all citizens and, thereby provides equality for personal, community, regional and national development.’
On their part, the memorandum of the Igbo submitted to the then national constitutional conference commission unequivocally declared: “For the sake of the future of Nigeria as one country and one nation; for the sake of development; for the sake of generations of Nigerians; for the sake and benefit of all Nigerians; and indeed of black men and women all over the world, we must accept the fcat that the status quo is untenable. We must steer back the ship of state along that course on the basis of which our country was founded. We must reaffirm federalism as the best system of government for Nigeria and restructure the Nigerian polity along the lines of a true federation.” In a separate view, Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN) added that: “The maintenance of the unity of the country as one united, indissoluble nation demands, not only a federal system, but a loose federation. A loose federation requires a radical restructuring of territorial units of the federation and of the power relations within it. “ he stated that the ‘the use of state rather than the ethnic group as the unit for the application of the federal character principle in the distribution of public appointments and other benefits is a distortion of its underlying objective.”
In a recent publication entitled: Nigeria: political power imbalance, elder statesman and lawyer, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, also noted that, “The most heinous aspect of the damage to Nigeria was the intended structure of the country which was against the principle laid down by K. C Wheare, the author of the famous book, Federal Government.
In a paper entitled, Why Nigerians unity remains elusive he d at the convention of the Nigerian community in Austria in 2002, senator Femi Okurounmu had observed, “If Nigerians were united in our goals and aspirations, our nation would not be what it is today, and many of you would not be here.” He added: “It is not as if Nigerians do not recognize the value of true unity. Everyone is aware of the economic advantages of size, its political leverage in international relations and the benefits of a larger poll of natural and human resources on which our nation can draw if we are truly united. That is why we all show a strong rhetorical commitment to Nigerian unity. It is not uncommon to hear some Nigerians proclaim to the rooftop that Nigerian unity is not negotiable, or to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done. Yet, by their actions, it is clear that the unity that they so righteously proclaim is unity in their own terms.”
Not too long ago, Second Republic vice president, Dr Alex Ekwueme, in a speech at the meeting of the conference of Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly, held in Enugu, recalled the intense political intrigues and power play between those who believed in the status quo and advocates of rotational presidency as a way of fostering a sense of belonging among the federating units of Nigeria. he said he and other proponents met a stiff opposition, adding: “When the opposition to the rotational presidency persisted, it was pointed out that if the purpose of the 1914 amalgamation was to ensure that the South was always under the leadership of the North, then it might become necessary to consider the option of de-amalgamation. With this show of brinkmanship, both sides opted to retreat in the interest of Nigeria’s continued existence and unity, and rotational presidency was endorsed by consensus and became part of the draft of the 1995 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
It is also instructive that such personalities as Chief Bola Tinubu had at one time expressed confidence that there is light at the end of tunnel for the country, in spite the current challenges. Citing the rough paths many developed countries had to meander in their attainment of statehood, he was optimistic about Nigeria getting to a safe harbour. “We cannot give up on our country. Every country has its own historical challenges. But somewhat, real patriots rally and make the needed sacrifices to comfort and defeat evil to make life better for the coming generation. Everyone today hails Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States of America. But they easily forget that it took an Abraham Lincoln to put his foot down on slavery, abolish it even if, in the end, he lost his life. But America is better off for all today. We are at that stage in our country.”